Monowara Begum, Khulna
Nirapod Shobji

My life has always been full of fascinating experiences. Before I started my Nirapod Shobji initiative, I was involved with Hunger Free World Bangladesh, an NGO with a vision to promote organic and fresh foods from 2001. There at the Center for Organic Farm (COF), I got to know a completely new method of harvesting organic food with vermicompost. I also worked with the local Krishi Office to encourage using vermicompost to grow non-toxic foods and vegetables with necessary nutrients. After getting my hands-on experience and knowledge on vermicompost, I thought of creating my own business as Nirapod Shobji in 2007.

Despite knowing the risks and limitations of being an entrepreneur, I decided to step into this unknown territory. My start was slow because people did not have any incentive to change their ways of farming. I educated them about the demerits of long-term fertilizer usage and the benefits of natural compost. I wanted the housewives and the women to grow their natural crops and vegetables in their backyard or field so that they could be self-sufficient. So, the women learned about the compost and started buying from me to use in their farms. Because of my social activities, I received many awards, such as Khulna Division’s Shreshtho Joyita Award, Hunger Free Prize, LGED Prize, and Bangabandhu Award.

Initially, my vermicompost sales were very low. The price of the vegetables remained the same in the market whether the farmers used vermicompost or chemical fertilizer. So, there was no reason for them to buy vermicompost if they didn’t get any economic profit. That’s why we needed to give these farmers an incentive so that they start using vermicompost. Mr. Shahin Hossain from the Center for Organic Farm came forward to help us with this. He advised us to sell the vegetables in Dhaka. He also introduced us to some people at Prakriti Farming, where they sell healthy and natural foods for everyone, especially pregnant women. We became one of the top suppliers for their packaged products. Besides, the Krishi Office has supported us from day one. They gave us wholehearted support so that we could inspire many others to use vermicompost and eat toxin-free vegetables.

We have now become a family of more than 600 women entrepreneurs who regularly use natural compost and grow fresh vegetables. We grow potatoes, papaya, pumpkins, lemons, bananas, different types of herbs, etc. Every Monday and Thursday, the women bring their fresh batch of produce and sell them to the locals. Instead of just idly sitting and doing household chores, the women can now earn as much as TK. 20000 per month. We also deliver truckloads of compost to Meherpur and other districts. The business was going very well until the coronavirus became widespread and halted our growth.

We had a very tough time in 2020. The number of orders from the city market fell drastically and the local market was also completely disrupted. As a result, we did not have much choice other than selling at lower prices and incurring losses. Now, the situation has started getting better and the prices are also increasing. We are hopeful that we won’t have to face such a dire situation again.

The training program in Jessore, hosted by LightCastle Partners, was brief but very effective. Even though I had been doing my own business for more than 13 years, I got to learn many new things about business management and markets. Now, we are planning to diversify our business earnings by starting a cow farm along with Nirapod Shobji. We will get fresh manure and milk from the cows, which will lower our cost of outsourcing them and increase our profitability. So, keeping our faith in the Almighty, we will keep moving forward.

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